Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


An On-Demand Society

It's country report time at one of our neighborhood schools, so all the kids in one grade have recently been in to get their three book sources for their countries. Having the sources in hand is due tomorrow, so there's been a rush of procrastinators this weekend. Who are, of course, mostly out of luck since they procrastinated and other people checked out the books first. They can make photocopies of the reference source articles on the countries or we can find things like cooking in [country] or festivals of [country] or adult travel guides--things that will count as sources without giving them much helpful information--but the good stuff is picked over.

I don't know this for a fact, but I'm pretty sure a part of the reason the assignment still requires book sources that the school doesn't provide is so that the students have to come to the library to become more familiar with us. It's an effort at partnership and community awareness, I believe, along with teaching them about the process of researching. But the non-library users who are forced to come here don't really know what to expect and just assume we'll magically have exactly what they need exactly when they want it. So an unintended side-effect, I worry, is that the only experience these people will have of the library is feeling frustrated that we can't help them when they're up against a deadline.

An illustration:

People like to be self-sufficient and don't like to ask for help, and this father and sons were typical. They found something in the catalog that got them to the WWII section and they browsed and hovered in that area for a good ten minutes. Finally one of the guys came over and asked for books on Germany. We walked back to the shelves and found they were all checked out. I was starting to offer recipe books and the Culturegrams and such, but the dad had overheard and said they'd just go to the bookstore and buy some. I said if they were going to drive after things we'd probably have what they wanted at our other branches since only this particular school in our area was currently doing the assignment. He said they weren't going to bother with driving after things, they'd just go buy what they needed. And they left.

The thing is, they were going to drive after things. They could have reached three of our other locations as quickly as the nearest bookstore. But if I were to describe the dad's physical reactions they were frustration and disgust--we'd wasted his time and made him feel incapable. So even though he could still get what he wanted for free in the same amount of time as the bookstore, that option was tainted by association with the experience he was having and the library had been proven unreliable in his mind. Better to pay for total control of the experience at the bookstore than be at the mercy of an unreliable sharing system he couldn't control.

That's my interpretation, anyway, sitting on this side of the help desk.


At 11/07/2010 8:54 PM, Blogger CDL said...

I wonder, though, if a bookstore is going to have 'county books' or the type of thing they need for the
research' project. And dad is probably also mad they waited until the last minute, mad at an assignment he has to deal with at home and so on. Dad couldn't control any of it, but did think spending money would solve the problem. Hmmmmm. . ..

Three book sources - wow. We tend to see only one necessary book source anymore.


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